US tells Syrian government to 'stop the slaughter'

AP News

8/1/2011 5:20:58 PM - AP News

The Obama administration on Monday ratcheted up condemnation of Syrian President Bashar Assad's violent crackdown on pro-reform protesters, calling on the regime to "stop the slaughter" of its own citizens as security forces shelled cities for a second day in a brutal bid to quell a 5-month-old uprising.

President Barack Obama said the latest attacks on demonstrators, launched as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, were "outrageous" while Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the latest attacks highlighted "the brutality and viciousness of the Assad regime." Clinton urged the U.N. Security Council to take action and called on members opposed to reconsider.

Obama met Monday at the White House with U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who was in Washington for consultations and congressional testimony. The president said in a statement _ his second on Syria in as many days _ that America stood solidly behind the Syrian people and supported their demands for universal rights and a transition to democratic rule.

Clinton, who planned to meet members of the Syrian-American community at the State Department on Tuesday, went further. She noted that dozens of people, including children, had been killed in latest violence.

"We call on President Assad to stop the slaughter now," she said, repeating that Assad had lost legitimacy with his own people.

Earlier, Syrian forces shelled the city of Hama for a second day and fired at worshippers heading to Ramadan prayers. Violence on Sunday left 74 people dead throughout the country, 55 of them from Hama and nearby, according to rights groups.

"We call on those members of the United Nations Security Council who have opposed any Security Council action that would call on Assad to stop the killing to reconsider their positions," Clinton said. "And we call on the international community to come together behind the people of Syria in this critical time."

The U.N. Security Council was scheduled to have closed-door consultations on Syria late Monday at Germany's request, but U.S. officials said they were not optimistic that the body would act.

Germany, Britain, France and Portugal have tried unsuccessfully since April to get the council to condemn Syrian attacks on unarmed civilians. The U.S supports their efforts, but they have been thwarted by opposition from veto-wielding Russia and China as well as South Africa, Brazil and India, which holds the council presidency this month.